Stephanie Grace: Jindal’s flip-flop seems like pure politics

A year ago this week, soon after Gov. Bobby Jindal dropped the first vague public hint that he was listening to growing anger among conservative activists over education policy, I wrote a column headlined “Jindal take on Common Core bears watching.”

Now, I certainly appreciate it when politicians prove me right, but this is getting ridiculous.

At the time, Jindal hadn’t come anywhere close to renouncing his initial support for bringing the state-developed education standards to Louisiana. All he’d said, in response to a pointed question from someone attending the ultra-conservative RedState conference in New Orleans, was that he’d oppose a national curriculum — which, allegations aside, Common Core isn’t.

Still, given that the governor had gotten into the habit of catering to the absolutist wing of his party, the situation seemed worth monitoring.

And indeed, Jindal would go on to spend the better part of the year slowly backing away from his support for the new English and math standards before finally issuing a spectacular reversal, cutting off the state contract to pay for the Common Core-aligned tests that were scheduled to start this year and setting off a no-holds-barred fight with his former allies that’s playing out in public, and in court.

For those keeping track, there are now three legal claims working their way through the system.

First, a group of 17 anti-Common Core legislators sued the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Superintendent John White, arguing that the standards were improperly adopted in the first place.

Then, a group of charter school operators, teachers and parents sued the governor, alleging improper meddling with BESE’s operations (after a contentious hearing, BESE voted 6-4 to join the suit, with two of Jindal’s three board appointees backing the litigation).

Finally, Jindal countersued BESE, seeking to invalidate the state’s memorandum of understanding with PARCC, the testing consortium led by states but partly funded by the federal government, on the grounds that it represents a back-door attempt to federalize education. Jindal later amended the suit to seek an immediate injunction against using the test.

Say this much: For a governor who’s been known to claim that society has become too litigious, he’s sure doing his part to keep Louisiana’s lawyers busy.

And say this as well: Jindal’s nakedly political behavior has hurt his cause far more than it’s helped.

It would be one thing if he linked his change of heart to anything specific that’s happening in Louisiana’s classrooms, rather than relying on the same old right-wing rhetoric he trots out when he’s talking about health care or any number of other issues. Or if he hadn’t long since made it clear that he cares more about how his positions play to GOP activists and potential primary voters — say, the people motivated enough to attend events like the RedState conference — than how they impact Louisiana.

It’s not just political opponents who say so. The most striking development in this saga is the unified pro-Common Core front by groups that were once in lockstep with the governor, from the business community — which is focused on workforce training and competitiveness — to leaders of the standards-driven educational reform movement.

So it was reassuring, but not all that surprising, to read in Monday’s Advocate that schools across the state are plowing ahead with the long-planned transition, despite the counterproductive chaos at the policy level.

Also comforting are recent statements by the major Republicans seeking to succeed Jindal that they not only object to his disruptive tactics but also reject his amended position (the lone Democrat in the 2015 race to date, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, has sent more mixed signals, but face it, the opposition that matters in Louisiana is coming from the right wing of the GOP).

If nothing else, the solidly pro-Common Core statements issued by U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne offer hope that the past year’s ups and downs have been a detour — and that the end of this distracting fight may be in sight.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.